Written by Rebecca Griffiths — It’s a well worn plot device, much beloved of those old-fashioned Western movies I recall from my childhood. The stranger with a secret arrives in a sleepy frontier town, is eyed with suspicion by the locals and goes on to cause ructions.
Fast forward to the present and crime writers have added a new twist. Now this particular stranger is a woman – and boy, does she tend to have secrets! From Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, through to a recent favourite, In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings, you can be certain that a woman alone is going to have something to hide.
So let me introduce you to the darkly beautiful Rachel Wright, newly arrived in a small Welsh community and a women with a past. For starters, her name is really Sarah D’Villez, and just around the time that Princess Diana died she was making headlines too, her blonde beauty gracing every newspaper in the country, her story a dramatic one.
As a teenager, Sarah escaped the clutches of a man who had abducted her and held her hostage. She witnessed him cold-bloodedly killing his wife, and was the star witness at his trial. Now, he is about to be released, and so Sarah adopts a dramatic change of identity, image and address in an attempt to come out from under the shadow that has haunted her since that fateful period in her life. She wants a fresh beginning, out of the media spotlight.
As Sarah settles into her beautiful barn conversion, she begins to enjoy the rural idyll and even gets a dog to keep her company. But things have a tendency of turning sour in the realms of crime fiction, and The Primrose Path is no exception. It’s all very well living in a pretty little bubble, but when that bubble bursts, the world comes crowding in on Sarah in dramatic fashion.
Sarah was always a Daddy’s girl, something much resented by her mother, who at first seems pretty unconcerned about her daughter’s disappearance. But a chance discovery in her late husband’s study shocks Mrs D’Villez enough to shuck off her mask of indifference and call in outside help. Meanwhile, Sarah is loving her new life and making friends – but is all as it seems? As the cover states, someone is watching her, and someone knows all about her.
Author Rebecca Griffiths grew up in rural and mid-Wales and her intimate knowledge of the area shines through, creating the authentic feel of a claustrophobic, tight-knit little community where everyone knows everyone else’s business and is proud of it.
The OED defines The Primrose Path as, “the pursuit of pleasure, especially when bringing disastrous consequences.” Believe me, this book is well named. You must prepare to run the gamut of emotions in a reading journey that has as many false directions as a faulty GPS system. The pages may be black and white but there are myriad shades of grey in the cast of characters and you’ll find yourself wavering from like to loathe and back again before the end is in sight.
This is a cracking debut from an author who shows great promise and I could only marvel at the number of twists she crammed into one book. Several were completely unexpected, while others were more predictable and easily spotted. Some of the characters leapt off the page – in particular Sarah, her mother and the wonderful Dai Jones – while others border on the generic. One called Mrs Pepper is a standout in this category.
You’ll certainly feel like you’ve been through the wringer by the end of this chilling slice of domestic noir. I’m adding Rebecca Griffiths to my growing list of new authors to watch.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars